Mrutyu (मृत्युः)

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Mrutyu (मृत्युः) is the samskrit term used to denote death. Ayurveda is known as the system of knowledge about life. Thus that point at which one's life ends i.e. death is also critically studied and described in Ayurveda treatises. Ayurveda treatises have not only meticulously described the pattern of reducing life span over the ages but also discussed the causes of differences in life span of individuals, role of karma and types of death. Charaka samhita (चरकसंहिता), the treatise on Ayurveda describes Mrutyu after the topic of Janapadodhwansa (जनपदोध्वंसः) in Vimanasthanam (विमानस्थानम्).

मृत्यु परिभाषा ॥ Definition of Mrutyu

Mrutyu has been defined on the basis of events happening at the time of Mrutyu according to Ayurveda. Dalhana, the commentator on Sushruta samhita has defined Mrutyu as below,

मृत्युः शरीरेन्द्रियात्ममनसां वियोगः। [1] (Dalhana, Sush. Samh. 1.25)

mr̥tyuḥ śarīrendriyātmamanasāṁ viyogaḥ । [1] (Dalhana, Sush. Samh. 1.25)

Meaning: Dissociation of link between Sharira, Indriyas, Atman and manas is called as Mrutyu. ह्

In order to understand the concept of Mrutyu described in Ayurveda, one must first understand that how Ayurveda defines Ayu (आयुः) i.e. life. Ayu is the synonym for Jivitam (जीवितम्) or life. The union of shariram (शरीरम्), indriyas (इन्द्रियाणि), manas (मनः) and atman (आत्मा) is called as Ayu or life and thus Mrtyu is exactly the opposite of it. When this link is established and functional, the individual can interact with the outside world by gaining knowledge and responding appropriately. When the link is permanently broken, the individual can not interact with outside world and thus is called to have lost life.

आयुह्रास तथा लोकप्रलय संप्राप्ति ॥ The process of reduction in life span and dissolution of universe

Charaka Samhita, the treatise on Ayurveda, describes the process of reduction of life span of human beings and gradual reduction of quality of all living beings over the ages. At this point itself Charaka also mentions about the progression of this process ultimately into dissolution of universe that will take place gradually in this manner.

युगे युगे धर्मपादः क्रमेणानेन हीयते | गुणपादश्च भूतानामेवं लोकः प्रलीयते ||

संवत्सरशते पूर्णे याति संवत्सरः क्षयम् | देहिनामायुषः काले यत्र यन्मानमिष्यते ||

इति विकाराणां प्रागुत्पत्तिहेतुरुक्तो भवति || (Char. Samh. 3.25-27)[2]

yuge yuge dharmapādaḥ krameṇānena hīyate | guṇapādaśca bhūtānāmevaṁ lokaḥ pralīyate ||

saṁvatsaraśate pūrṇe yāti saṁvatsaraḥ kṣayam | dehināmāyuṣaḥ kāle yatra yanmānamiṣyate ||

iti vikārāṇāṁ prāgutpattiheturukto bhavati || (Char. Samh. 3.25-27)[2]

Meaning: With the passage of each yuga, righteousness or dharma gets reduced by a quarter, with similar reduction in the qualities of living beings, finally leading to dissolution of the universe. After completion of one hundred years in each yuga there is loss of one year in life span of living beings in respective age. Thus the initial origin of disorders is described. This association between causative factors and their effect of quality of living being is also applicable in todays time. The cause and effect relationship of lifestyle related factors and health has been put forward excellently. The qualities of living beings and their gradual degradation in yugas is described below

The reasons behind such degradation and this entire process has been systematically described by Acharya Charaka. He states the qualities of living beings in yugas starting from Satyayuga (सत्ययुगः) or Krtyuga (कृतयुगः) and then Treta yuga (त्रेतायुगः). Various psychosocial factors that affected life of living beings and gave rise to various ailments have been chronologically explained. This cause-and-effect relationship between various factors has been critically studied and put forward as follows.

सत्ययुगस्य प्रारंभे पुरुषाणां आयुः तथा गुणाः ॥ Virtues, qualities and life span of living beings before Satyayuga

  • Human beings: Satyayuga (सत्ययुगः) or Krtyuga (कृतयुगः) is known as the first yuga (युगः) in order of yugas. In this yuga humans were gifted with vitality equal to those of devatas (देवताः). They were tremendously pure and unhampered in their powers to perceive the Supreme. The firmness and stability of their bodies were comparable to essence of rocky mountains. They had clear complexion and senses. Their movement, strength and valor were like those of wind. They had the most desirable physical characteristics like handsomeness, body-size, cheerfulness and corpulence. They were devoted to truth, honest behavior, compassion, charity, self-restraint, moral discipline, spiritual endeavor, fasting, continence, and religious vows. They were free from fear, desire, aversion, infatuation, greed, anger, despondency, pride, disease, sleep, indolence, fatigue, languor, sloth and spirit of acquisition; and lastly they were bestowed with longevity.
  • Crops and herbs: For the benefit of these people of noble minds, qualities and deeds, the crops grew with inconceivable rasa (रसः | taste), veerya (वीर्यं | potency) and prabhava (प्रभावः | specific effect), and the virtue of the earth during the dawn of this golden age was charged fully with all excellent qualities.

सत्ययुगस्य अन्तः ॥ End of Satyayuga

At the end of the satyayuga, however, over-indulgence in food led to gaining heaviness in body in some affluent people. Consequently they started experiencing fatigue. Fatigue developed laziness and laziness in turn developed a tendency to accumulate things in them. The tendency of accumulation caused developed attachment for these things and it then gave rise to greed.

त्रेतायुगे पुरुषाणां आयुः तथा गुणाः ॥ Virtues, qualities and life span of living beings in Tretayuga

  • Human beings: The humans in Tretayuga had already developed greed which then generated malice. Malice caused falsehood which then led to development of passion, anger, vanity, hatred, cruelty, aggression, fear, grief, anxiety, distress and the like. In this way, in Tretayuga, one-quarter of Dharma or righteousness in human beings disappeared. Subsequently life-span of humans reduced by a quarter.
  • Crops and other environmental constituents: Similarly, there was reduction in the attributes of earth, water etc., by a quarter. Because of the reduction of these attributes there was diminution by one quarter of the qualities of grains. In effect, this degradation impacted all aspects of living beings that were described to have existed in the Krutayuga or Satyayuga.

रोगाणां प्रागुत्पत्ति हेतवः ॥ Origin of diseases

The changes occurring in environmental factors and life qualities of human beings led to change in lifestyle practices. This caused significant impact on Agni (अग्नी | the entity responsible for maintaining homeostasis in body) and Vata (वातः | the chief controller of bodily functions). Disturbance in functions of Agni and vata ultimately gave rise to development of various diseases. Diseases further reduced the life span of human beings.

In this way, in every succeeding yuga, the righteousness or dharma has reduced and thus there is consequent reduction in quality of life of human beings and also quality of plants.

Is the life span of an individual predetermined ?

Charaka Samhita throws light on the question about whether the life span of the humans is predetermined or not. While addressing this question raised by one of the disciples, the factors that decide one's life span have been elaborated in Charaka Samhita. Acharya Charaka denies the possibility of occurrence of predetermined life span. To support this, he says, if everyone's life were predetermined, there would not been any use of various therapeutic measures or code of conduct which proves beneficial for one's health and well-being. If the life-span in every case were predetermined, then none would be found to seek longevity by means of acts such as chanting mantra (मंत्रः) , sacrifices (बलिः), offerings (दानम्), oblations, regimen, atonement (प्रायश्चित्तम्), fasting and other purgative therapies, benedictory rites, genuflexion (the act of bending the knee in worship), pilgrimages and sacrificial rites. Multiple points have been discussed and put forward to support that life span is not predetermined.[3]

Thus Ayurveda recommends that to obtain the desired life span, one should keep a control on karma generated from physical, psychological and vocal activities in this life and adopt appropriate methods to protect his life from various injurious elements.

जीवितस्य तथा मृत्योः मूलम् The key factor controlling life and death

While illustrating the causes and facts which support the indeterminate nature of life span, Acharya Charaka puts forward few examples that had clearly shown their impact on life span. On the basis of observation of thousands of humans (data) it was found that the life span of those who repeatedly engage in fighting and those who keep away is not the same. Similarly, the life-span of those whose diseases are treated in early stage and those whose diseases are not treated as soon as they are manifested is not the same. Also the life span of those who similarly with those who come in contact with poisonous substances, and those who do not also differs. From all these examples it is concluded that more the wear and tear of body more are the chances of getting reduced life span. To support this, Acharya Charaka gives example of 2 pots, one earthen pot used for daily chores and one ornamental which is usually securely placed, taken care of and rarely used. Naturally the life (span) of both these pots will be different. And thus importance of wholesome regimen and cautious efforts to preserve health is highlighted.

Ayurveda stresses upon adopting wholesome regimen since that only is considered to be the basis of life and contrary is that of death.

......तस्माद्धितोपचारमूलं जीवितम्, अतो विपर्ययान्मृत्युः|.. (Char. Samh. 3.36)[4]

......tasmāddhitopacāramūlaṁ jīvitam, ato viparyayānmr̥tyuḥ|... (Char. Samh. 3.36)[4]

आयुः निर्धारणे दैवस्य तथा पुरुषाकारस्य बलाबलत्वम् Role of karma in deciding life span or death

It is said that, the Ayu of living beings is based on combined effect of Daiva (दैवम्) and Purushakara (पुरुषकार).

तं भगवानुवाच- इहाग्निवेश! भूतानामायुर्युक्तिमपेक्षते| दैवे पुरुषकारे च स्थितं ह्यस्य बलाबलम् | (Char. Samh. 3.29)[5]

taṁ bhagavānuvāca- ihāgniveśa! bhūtānāmāyuryuktimapekṣate| daive puruṣakāre ca sthitaṁ hyasya balābalam | (Char. Samh. 3.29)[5]

Acharyas have explained the meaning of terms Daiva and Purushakara as follows,

दैवमात्मकृतं विद्यात् कर्म यत् पौर्वदैहिकम्| स्मृतः पुरुषकारस्तु क्रियते यदिहापरम्| (Char. Samh 3.30)[6]

daivamātmakr̥taṁ vidyāt karma yat paurvadaihikam| smr̥taḥ puruṣakārastu kriyate yadihāparam| (Char. Samh 3.30)[6]

Meaning: Daiva means one’s own deeds from the previous life while purushakara stands for one’s actions (deeds) in this life.

Longevity or life span of a human being thus depends upon one's deeds in this as well as in previous life.

Further, the 3 types of karmas have also been described in Charaka Samhita. Karma could be superior, medium or inferior in type or quality. When karmas of previous as well as present life are superior in quality the result is long and happy life. On the similar lines, if ones karmas are of inferior nature, his life would be short, unhappy and the lifespan would be undetermined.

The interplay between Daiva, Purushakara and effect on life span

Although the life span depends upon Daiva and Purushakara and their overall strength, there exists a possibility that one of them would overpower the other and the ultimate effect will be based on the more powerful among them.

दैवं पुरुषकारेण दुर्बलं ह्युपहन्यते | (Char. Samh. 3.33)[7]

daivaṁ puruṣakāreṇa durbalaṁ hyupahanyate | (Char. Samh. 3.33)[7]

Meaning: A weak daiva gets subdued by a strong purushakara. Similarly a strong daiva overshadows one’s purushakara and because of this, some scholars hold the view that the span of life is invariably predetermined. There are some powerful actions whose implementation takes place at a predetermined time, but there is another kind of action whose implementation is not predetermined and gets manifested in an appropriate atmosphere.[8]

मृत्युभेदाः ॥ Types of Mrtyu

Based on the manner in which a purusha succumbs to death or the causative factors behind one's death, Mrutyu is known to be of two types. The type of mrutyu which occurs as a result of natural process of ageing is called as Kala Mrutyu (काल मृत्युः | Natural death or timely death) while the type of death which occurs due to some unprecedented situation or some external factor like accident, injury or poison etc is called as Akala Mrtyu (अकाल मृत्युः | premature death or untimely death). Akala mrutyu is also called as Agantu type of Mrutyu by Acharya Sushruta. Agantu denotes external factor and thus untimely death is believed to be related to this factor.

एकोत्तरं मृत्युशतमथर्वाणः प्रचक्षते || तत्रैकः कालसंयुक्तः शेषा आगन्तवः स्मृताः ...|| (Su su 34/6-7)[9]

ekottaraṁ mr̥tyuśatamatharvāṇaḥ pracakṣate || tatraikaḥ kālasaṁyuktaḥ śeṣā āgantavaḥ smr̥tāḥ ...|| (Su su 34/6-7)[9]

कालमृत्युः Kala Mrtyu

Kala mrtyu denotes death by natural causes or death occurring as a consequence of natural ageing process of physical body. The physical body is called as Shariram in Ayurveda which is defined as, 'the one which undergoes continuous degeneration'. Therefore, there comes a point of time in one's life where, the Shariram or physical body degenerates to a level at which it fails to maintain the connection with Indriyas (senses), manas (mind) and atma (life energy). Once this link between Shariram, manas, indriyas and life energy is broken, life can not continue. In other words, Mrutyu occurs due to disruption of link between these components due to natural process of ageing of physical body. This type of death is referred to as Kala Mrutyu.

तथाऽऽयुः शरीरोपगतं बलवत्प्रकृत्या यथावदुपचर्यमाणं स्वप्रमाणक्षयादेवावसानं गच्छति; स मृत्युः काले | (Char. Samh 3.38)[10]

tathā''yuḥ śarīropagataṁ balavatprakr̥tyā yathāvadupacaryamāṇaṁ svapramāṇakṣayādevāvasānaṁ gacchati; sa mr̥tyuḥ kāle | (Char. Samh 3.38)[10]

Dalhana, the commentator on Sushruta samhita, has quoted opinion of Vyasabhattaraka (व्यासभट्टारक आचार्य)) that, Akala Mrutyu does not occur in any case. Any death is Kala Mrutyu which occurs only when the right time of death specific to that individual has arrived. If that time has not arrived then even after numerous life threatening situations, that human does not die. On the similar line, if the right time of death for the person has arrived then even the otherwise trivial cause could become fatal for that person. Thus, all mrutyus are Kala mrutyus only.

व्यासभट्टारकेणायुक्तं- “नाकाले म्रियते कच्चिद्विद्धः शरशतैरपि| कालप्राप्तस्य कौन्तेय! वज्रायन्ते तृणान्यपि”- इति| (Sush. Samh. 1.25)[11]

vyāsabhaṭṭārakeṇāyuktaṁ- "nākāle mriyate kaccidviddhaḥ śaraśatairapi| kālaprāptasya kaunteya! vajrāyante tr̥ṇānyapi"- iti| (Sush. Samh. 1.25)[11]

अकालमृत्युः Akala Mrtyu

Akala Mrtyu is the type of death where death occurs accidentally or due to some external factor and not due to natural process of ageing. Thus, Akala mtyu refers to untimely death. Acharyas have mentioned few causative factors which have potential to cause untimely death. These are the factors which should thus be avoided by those who wish to live healthy and long life. The factors that might cause untimely death are as below,[12]

  1. Over-exertion or over-stretching one's physical limits for a long time
  2. Eating without considering one's capacity to digest or eating in excess
  3. Irregular timings of meals
  4. Not maintaining appropriate body posture
  5. Excessive indulgence in sex
  6. staying in company of people who are wicked or evil-minded
  7. Suppression of manifested natural urges
  8. Non-suppression of urges that should be ideally controlled before manifestation
  9. Affliction by- evil spirits (भूताः | Bhutas), poisonous substances
  10. Contact with (polluted and harmful) wind and fire
  11. Direct injuries or trauma
  12. Avoiding food and medicines
  13. Inappropriate treatment of diseases like Jwara (ज्वरः)

From all the above causes the physical body of humans is damaged and it undergoes rapid degeneration due to imbalances of doshas (दोषाः) and dhatus (धातवः). In this manner, due to inability of physical body to sustain, one's lifespan may come to an end prematurely then such type of death is called as Akala Mrtyu or untimely death. Thus such type of akala mrutyu is preventable if proper care of body is taken as per Sushruta.

मृत्युरप्यकालजः प्रतिकार्यः | (Sush. Samh. 1.25)[11]

mr̥tyurapyakālajaḥ pratikāryaḥ | (Sush. Samh. 1.25)[11]

Dalhana, the commentator of Sushruta Samhita has explained the possibility of untimely death and its similarity with some other natural phenomena. He says like there is possibility of untimely rains, flowering of a plant without season or fruiting without season sometimes, similarly there also exists a possibility of untimely death.

“यथा वर्षमकाले च यथा पुष्पं यथा फलम्| यथा स्याद्दीपनिर्वाणमकाले मरणं तथा”- इति| व्यासवचनमप्यर्जुनप्रोत्साहकमकालमृत्युस्थापकं दृश्यते; तथाहि- “जलमग्निर्विषं शस्त्रं स्त्रियो राजकुलानि च| अकालमृत्यवो ह्येते तेभ्यो बिभ्यति पण्डिताः”- इति| (Dalhana, Sush. Samh. 1.25)[11]

"yathā varṣamakāle ca yathā puṣpaṁ yathā phalam| yathā syāddīpanirvāṇamakāle maraṇaṁ tathā"- iti| vyāsavacanamapyarjunaprotsāhakamakālamr̥tyusthāpakaṁ dr̥śyate; tathāhi- "jalamagnirviṣaṁ śastraṁ striyo rājakulāni ca| akālamr̥tyavo hyete tebhyo bibhyati paṇḍitāḥ"- iti| (Sush. Samh. 1.25)[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 alhana Commentary on Sushrut Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutram 25 )
  2. 2.0 2.1 Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 25-27)
  3. Available from
  4. 4.0 4.1 Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutram 36)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 29)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 29)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 30)
  8. Available from
  9. 9.0 9.1 Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 34 Sutra 6-7)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 38)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Dalhana Commentary on Sushruta Samhita (Adhyaya 1 Sutra 25)
  12. Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 3 Sutra 38)